Until death do us part
The last time I spoke to Robert, he had just finished changing his wife’s diaper. He told me this with no trace of self pity but rather to share one of the remaining intimacies of a couple still very much in love.
Though the cancer has ravaged Mary’s body and bowels, she remains the object of Bob’s constant affection. She learned of her cancer on her 43rd birthday.
With drugs and determination, she fought the good fight, but eventually the disease proved stronger than science. As recently as last spring, they spoke with optimism of her chances. That confidence diminished with every setback and pound lost. Now Robert is just trying to keep her comfortable.
A small saving grace of the tragedy is that the couple is financially well off. Robert is a successful jazz musician. If I were to use his real name, more than a few of you would recognize it. Mary is only famous for being Bob’s mate. But those who know her well (unfortunately I’m not one of them) claim she has a near clairvoyant intuition and a saint-like kindness that overpowers even Robert’s genius.
They met more than 20 years ago in New York City. Robert was playing horn in the Village and Mary was a hostess at a popular after-hours restaurant. She was unique in her Spanish beauty and in the fact that she seemed to have little interest in the dashing musician. Bob flirted. Mary was coy. Bob persisted. Mary resisted. When he asked her on a date, she told him to ask her again when he wasn’t living in a hotel.
The music took Robert all over the world during the next five years. When he returned to the city, Mary still greeted guests at the restaurant, but now she owned the place. They dated, fell in love and moved in together.
Mary ran their lives with the same cordial efficiency as she ran her restaurant. There was little denying that Bob was blessed, but like many gifted people, when it came to organizing his life, he was a mess.
She paid the bills, kept their calendar and made sure her husband dressed well on stage. Robert’s manager would call Mary first to run the performance dates by her before he even approached her mate.
While Robert was frail, prone to sickness and temperamental, Mary was a rock of health and stability. She sold her restaurant, which gave her more time to manage Robert’s life and career, and they both flourished.
It is ironic that Robert, the sensitive, artistic hypochondriac, 10 years Mary’s senior, would be the one called upon as caregiver.
He more than rose to the occasion. As Mary’s health deteriorated, Robert remained home with her. He became the one to run their home and kept visitors from tiring his wife.
Now, Robert seldom leaves her side. They have a live-in housekeeper and hospice nurse but Robert prefers to perform the more delicate, unpleasant tasks himself.
He said to a friend of mine, “She is as beautiful dying as she was when she first broke my heart in the East Village.”
Mary and Robert were never legally married. It never seemed important. Now, with the likelihood of Mary’s death, the reality of their common-law situation became evident.
Financially, it was only a minor inconvenience. When Mary first got sick, she signed her assets over to her lover. But being life-partners rather than a married couple has opened a Pandora’s box of concern. Some hospitals allow only family members to visit patients in intensive care.
Robert will not be able to take possession of her remains for burial. And most importantly, during what surely will be the most difficult time in his life, the state will afford him no rights that would normally be given to a spouse.
It is as if caring for, living with and loving each other for nearly 20 years meant nothing.
The sensible thing to do would be for Mary and Bob to call a justice of the peace to come to her bedside and marry them. But Robert and Mary cannot get married, our government says.
The names here are really Bob and Martin.
Our president, our governor and many of our leaders don’t recognize the sanctity of same-sex unions and are doing all they can to prevent same-sex couples from being allowed to marry.
They contend that the only sacred marriage is one between a man and a woman. They say this even though half of all heterosexuals’ marriages end in separation or divorce.
I wouldn’t want to tell Robert that his relationship with Martin is not sacred. I would rather tell him that love, not gender, makes a union sacred S
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He lives in Breckenridge.
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